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Astrid Longhurst: “Stretch slowly”

When you love yourself, you are never alone because you always have you. When we are afraid of being alone, there is often a very deep-seated fear that we are separate from others. This begins with feeling separate from ourselves. We may doubt our own capabilities or we simply haven’t spent enough time loving being […]

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When you love yourself, you are never alone because you always have you. When we are afraid of being alone, there is often a very deep-seated fear that we are separate from others. This begins with feeling separate from ourselves. We may doubt our own capabilities or we simply haven’t spent enough time loving being in our own company. Many people find ways to fill up the emptiness that they feel if they are alone. There is often a fear that if they look too deeply at who they are, they won’t like the person they see. However, when we begin a practice of self-love we begin to listen to our needs, our thoughts and judgments. When we stop living in our heads and come back to the embrace of our body, we begin to find more comfort in being with ourselves. This is vital because it increases our autonomy and sense of self. We begin to trust our own intuition and make decisions based upon what is right for us, rather than what others expect from us.

As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview (Astrid Longhurst). Astrid Longhurst is an international body confidence & body image expert & the founder of the Institute for Body Confidence Coaching, which educates & trains a new generation of transformational coaches. She is also an author & her latest book is “Romancing your body” (How to fall deeply, passionately & wildly in love with your body & your life).


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

I am a body confidence expert and the founder of the Institute for Body Confidence Coaching which trains a new generation of transformational body confidence & wellbeing coaches. I’m also author of two books on loving your body, the latest is “Romancing your body” (How to fall deeply, passionately and wildly in love with your body & your life).

I think I was probably always destined to do the work that I do now. My entire life has been about learning to love and look after my body. My struggles with food and feeling ashamed of my body began at an early age. My father died when I was five years old and from that moment, I remember finding comfort in food. His death left a huge void in our lives and no one really spoke about the loss and the grief that we all felt. I don’t think they knew how to back then. Nowadays we know how to speak to children about the loss of a parent, however, back in the sixties, we just didn’t talk about it. However, at this time, I also loved to dance and found freedom and joy when I moved. I decided that I wanted to be a dancer and it was here that the real struggles with my body image and eating issues began.

At the age of 16, I failed an audition for the dance college of my dreams. I was told that I was too big. I was devastated. I had already lost a lot of weight and didn’t know how I could lose any more. I disliked my body intensely. I blamed my body for all the things that I couldn’t do. My relationship with myself was about as low as you can go. After losing more weight, I was finally accepted into dance college and began to learn my craft. I opened my own fitness classes and studied psychology, psychotherapy and counselling and eventually qualified as a personal, business & executive life coach. As I looked for ways to understand and heal my own body battles, I began to heal my own relationship with food and build a better relationship with myself. My classes were a huge success. My clients loved the fact that I was a larger woman who was fit, happy and in love with life. A TV producer spotted some of my classes and I became the first plus size fitness presenter on UK national television.

As my life unfolded, I became the “go to” body confidence expert for many newspapers and magazines and founded the Institute for Body Confidence Coaching to train and educate a new generation of holistic body confidence and wellbeing coaches.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

The greatest project is developing the programmes taught at the Institute for Body Confidence Coaching. We have students from all over the world and it is an absolute joy to see them helping others to feel fabulous about their bodies and their lives. My vision is to inspire a whole new way of looking at our bodies and teach this message around the world. If we can pass this message on to the young people growing up today, we begin to generate a world where people know that they are valuable and feel good about themselves. The course at the IBCC (Institute for Body Confidence Coaching) teaches modules on all body confidence issues. We look at not only the physical body, but the emotional, mental, spiritual and cultural body and how they all fit together. Another special project is helping businesses learn how to cultivate and create a culture of body confidence within the workplace. This includes the use of how to access body intelligence, somatic questioning and body linguistics to provide a wealth of information, wellbeing & effortless performance within the corporate environment. I also teach energy based, mindful movement classes called Chakranetics, which I adore.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

What a lovely question. I have had several real turnaround points in my journey to loving my body and self-acceptance. However, the greatest one was when I had lost a huge amount of weight and was at a health farm trying to sweat out another ten pounds. I remember standing in front of a full-length mirror and although I was as thin as I could possibly be, I felt disappointed in how my body looked. This should have been the day that I felt overjoyed at achieving my goals of weight loss. However, although I had lost a huge amount of weight, my mind was still as judgmental and critical as it had always been. Something within me changed. I knew that I couldn’t get any thinner. I wondered what it would take for me to love and appreciate my body. I thought I would finally love my body when I was slim, however this wasn’t the case. I realized that I needed to work on my attitudes and body beliefs and begin a transformational inner change. And, from that moment on, I began to be a little kinder and more appreciative of myself and my body.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

The relationship that we have with our body begins in childhood. From our earliest moments, we are absorbing messages given to us from our family about who we are and what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable about the way we look. These messages may be overt or covert in their delivery, however as a child, we are simply “downloading” everything that is being said as a fact. This works well when the messages or the “story” we are being told is mainly positive and self-affirming. However, when we receive a story that is self-limiting, judgmental or traumatic in any way, we struggle in later years to find and fully develop that connection within ourselves. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to teach parents about the value of modelling a positive and self-caring attitude towards their own bodies in order to be able to pass this on to their children. Unfortunately, what is often seen are adults walking around with the same negative “stories” they were told about themselves when they were a child. This is because they are carrying around a body image, which may or may not be true. If a woman (or man) has been told that their body is “wrong” in any way as a child and has felt shame because of this, those experiences become “hard wired” in the subconscious mind, which then judges everything based on this assumption. No longer do they feel as if they have a choice in how they feel about their body or their appearance. They may say things like, “I’m fat and ugly,” as they identify all of who they are with how they look. Instead of knowing that they are more than their shape, size, age or anything else, their self-worth becomes dependent on how they appear externally.

This is where a negative body image can be so dangerous because it can hold people back from being and feeling their best, happiest and most authentic self. Sadly, many people fail to see the extraordinary person that they are today because they are looking at themselves with eyes that can only see the past.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Loving yourself isn’t cheesy at all. It’s essential for our health, happiness and wellbeing. However, it’s not taught and rarely modelled within our families. As a body confidence expert, my clients will often say to me that they don’t know how to love themselves. And yet, when I ask them if they know how to love their partner, child, friend, or family member, they will always say “Yes.” The key is that it’s exactly the same skills that we use when loving someone else. We just haven’t been taught that we have permission to do this for ourselves. When you truly love yourself, you put yourself first on the list of people to love and take care of. People who don’t love themselves, often neglect their own needs in favour of someone else’s. They often feel that loving yourself is a selfish thing to do: However, it’s the most self-caring thing you can do for others and yourself.

When you love yourself, you treat yourself with kindness, respect and compassion. You are more able to set healthy boundaries and say “NO” to the things that you don’t wish to do. You are more able to ask for help and to make healthier choices. You are more resilient and able to recover from any setbacks in a positive way. You live in alignment with your values and are able to navigate the twists and turns of life with more ease and grace. It is also the foundation that allows you to create sustainable and loving relationships with others.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Great question. Thank you! Relationships are the greatest “mirrors” that we can have in our life. As we learn to navigate our life with another person, we will often find ourselves being challenged by what the partnership brings. Wherever, we find ourselves struggling or holding back in our life, our partner will often reflect this in their own life. It is interesting that when one person in the partnership decides that they will do some self-growth work, the relationship can often suffer. At this point many people will revert to the “safety” of the relationship as they are afraid of what it might mean to step out on their own. Of course, the ideal scenario is when two people are working on growing together.

When someone has very low self-esteem they may also be inclined to stay in a mediocre relationship because they feel grateful to their partner. There is a fear that no one else would have them and they would rather be in a relationship that was mediocre than in no relationship at all.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

This is such a powerful question.

I remember going to see a rheumatologist. It had taken me over forty minutes to walk up the short corridor in the hospital to his office. I was exhausted. As I sat waiting for him to arrive, my breathing was heavy and I was red in the face with exertion. Every single joint hurt and I was sweating profusely. I felt awful. He informed me that my blood pressure was sky high, my discs in my back were degenerative and that my inflammation markers were some of the highest he had ever seen. It was at this point that I realized that I needed to love myself enough to change the way I was being with myself.

Some fabulous questions to ask yourself are:

· Are your actions life affirming or life numbing?

· Where are you holding back in your life?

· If you truly loved your body and yourself, what would be unacceptable for you?

· What is the most loving thing I can do for me today?

· What are the costs of me not loving myself or making the changes I need to make?

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

When you love yourself, you are never alone because you always have you. When we are afraid of being alone, there is often a very deep-seated fear that we are separate from others. This begins with feeling separate from ourselves. We may doubt our own capabilities or we simply haven’t spent enough time loving being in our own company. Many people find ways to fill up the emptiness that they feel if they are alone. There is often a fear that if they look too deeply at who they are, they won’t like the person they see. However, when we begin a practice of self-love we begin to listen to our needs, our thoughts and judgments. When we stop living in our heads and come back to the embrace of our body, we begin to find more comfort in being with ourselves. This is vital because it increases our autonomy and sense of self. We begin to trust our own intuition and make decisions based upon what is right for us, rather than what others expect from us.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Every single relationship is better when we love ourselves. We show up as our authentic self and in so doing invite others to do the same. We can communicate our needs and put healthy boundaries around things that don’t feel good for us. There is a radiance that exudes from every cell in our body when we love ourselves and it lights us up in the most extraordinary ways. If you have ever walked into a room where someone is fully at ease with him or herself, you will have experienced how comfortable and joyful this feels for everyone to be around them. They aren’t trying to prove themselves or put anyone else down, they relish being in the company of others and also with their own company. This is powerful for personal and business relationships.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

a) An individual needs to question their own self-limiting beliefs and ask themselves if those beliefs are really true. For example, if you have a belief that you are not good enough. Place your hand over your heart, close your eyes and gently ask your heart (not your head) if this belief is really true about you. The heart will always tell you that you are (and always have been) good enough!

b) As a society, we need to focus on what is wonderful, fabulous and awe inspiring about every single human being. We need to raise each other up and be super kind. No one knows what it took for someone to get out of bed in the morning, so let’s practice kindness and compassion.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1. Thank your body!

Every single day upon awakening I spend a few moments thanking my body for seeing me safely through the night. This really helps me to set my day and start with gratitude.

2. Eat consciously and authentically

I make sure that I eat when I am physically hungry and not because I am feeling emotional, tired or because it’s a social event. I appreciate every mouthful of food and take time to really enjoy it.

3. Stretch slowly

I love taking time to stretch my body. I put on the most beautiful music and set aside time to stretch all of my body. As a former dancer, this feels so loving and good.

4. Question any self-limiting thoughts or beliefs.

I used to allow myself to believe the most negative thoughts as if they were true. I always stop and question my thoughts if I find myself feeling out of kilter. I ask myself if the thought I am thinking is really true about me. The answer is always “No, it’s not true.”

5. Dance!

I teach dance & fitness classes to the sounds of the seventies, eighties and nineties! The music is so fabulous that it always makes me feel good. If you can’t get to a class, then put on your favourite tracks and boogie at home!

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

I could write volumes about the books that have inspired me. I am only just getting into podcasts so in the meantime, here are some of my most cherished books.

· Creative visualization by Shakti Gawain. This book inspired me to use the power of my mind to create the experiences that I desired in my life.

· The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. This is a children’s book, however, the meaning in it strikes a chord with many adults. It’s all about becoming real and when someone truly loves you, it doesn’t matter how you look.

· Women, Food & God by Gineen Roth. A groundbreaking book exploring the ways in which we eat and how to find peace in our relationship with food and ourselves.

· Sweat your prayers by Gabrielle Roth. A fabulous book about how to use movement as a spiritual practice.

· The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton. Wonderful book showing how our thoughts create our inner environment and how this environment affects our genes! Groundbreaking!

· Breaking the habit of being yourself by Joe Dispenza. Our old diseases, habits and “stories” cannot exist in a new self. Joe’s work and research into quantum science and how to use it is fascinating.

· The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. Creativity just pours out of this lovely book.

· You can heal your life by Louise Hay. A pioneer in learning how to love ourselves. Louise was one of the first people to really work on how we need to heal our relationship with ourselves.

· Romancing your body (How to fall deeply, passionately & wildly in love with your body & your life.) by Astrid Longhurst (me!) I had to include my own book here because just the act of writing it was one of the most healing and loving things that I have ever done! I hope it inspires everyone who reads it!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I smiled when I read this question. The movement I would love to inspire is one where people really loved themselves. I imagine a world where every BODY was accepted for its beauty and diversity and every life was cherished for the uniqueness and gifts that it offered. A world where children were taught what it means to love who they are, and every adult expressed their own brand of authenticity as they walked this earth with purpose, presence and passion.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
 Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

This is a quote by the poet Mary Oliver, and I adore it!

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

This quote reminds me to rise within me, take hold of my dreams and connect to the magnificence of this life and the moment I am in. Our lives are so very precious…this quote calls out to me to remember why I am here and to love every moment of the journey!

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

Thank YOU so much for your time and lovely questions. I appreciate it so much!

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